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Mali takes on the peacekeepers, name that heatwave, and the UN appoints a man to tackle sex abuse: The Cheat Sheet

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Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

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Mali’s junta takes on MINUSMA

Tensions are growing between Mali’s ruling junta and the UN’s peacekeeping operation, MINUSMA. The mission’s spokesperson was told to leave Mali this week after tweeting about the junta’s arrest of 49 soldiers from Côte d'Ivoire. Bamako has called the troops mercenaries, but the spokesperson said they were deployed in a support capacity for MINUSMA, and the authorities had been informed of their arrival in advance. Set up nine years ago, MINUSMA had its mandate renewed by the UN Security Council last month. But Mali’s UN ambassador, Issa Konfourou, said the mission would not be able to freely investigate human rights violations – a key part of its mandate. Recent months have seen MINUMSA denied access to various locations where mass atrocities have occurred. This includes the central town of Moura, where soldiers and Russian mercenaries are accused of killing hundreds of civilians during anti-jihadist operations. The populist junta is stepping up its military efforts as French forces pull out, yet militants remain a potent threat – as attacks near Bamako in recent days highlight.

Quality of aid to Yemen “unacceptably low”

A new independent evaluation of the UN-led aid response in Yemen between 2015 and 2021 has found that while the operation “saved lives, prevented suffering, slowed the collapse of state services and had gone to scale in an impressive fashion”, overall, the quality of the aid “in many areas was unacceptably low”. The report was commissioned by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which includes UN and non-UN humanitarian groups, and aims to “strengthen collective humanitarian action”. While Yemen has often been called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, its massive (and expensive) aid effort has been plagued by obstruction and diversion, which in turn has sometimes made donors hesitant to give what the UN says is needed. The report found the UN-led response had helped in the much-needed area of food security, but it also noted hospital equipment that didn’t work (or couldn’t be used), poorly-built schools, and camps for the displaced “without toilets or basic amenities”.

Name that heatwave

Is it time to name heatwaves like we do tropical cyclones? There’s renewed interest in the idea as heatwaves scorch large swathes of the globe. Naming and categorising them, the argument goes, may help save lives by making the risks clearer – more visibly treating extreme heatwaves as the disasters they are. For now, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization says it’s weighing the pros and cons. Part of the problem is there’s no widely accepted system to classify or name heatwaves; short-term forecasting also needs improvement. And naming disasters is hardly a straightforward process, as WMO committees tasked with christening new Atlantic hurricanes have found. But some cities are moving ahead. In June, Seville in Spain became the world’s first to introduce a heatwave moniker (first up: “Zoe”). While temperatures across Europe are dominating headlines in the West, extreme heat is also searing parts of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, recently hit 48 degrees Celsius (breaking a decades-old record and threatening grain harvests); Shanghai in China issued its highest heat alert; and Abadan, Iran, sizzled at 52 degrees.

The risks of excluding refugees from healthcare

A life on the move is a risk factor for health and well-being, according to a new report by the World Health Organization, among the first to paint a global picture of refugee and migrant health. The report sifts through mounds of research to underscore a stark divide: migrants and refugees have “poorer health outcomes” when they’re marginalised in communities, and invisible to health systems. Many countries don’t offer full access to healthcare, and refugees and migrants have to navigate discrimination, complicated or costly systems, or travel long distances when they do. In a survey that formed part of the research, many refugees and migrant respondents who did not seek care for COVID-19 symptoms said it was because they couldn’t afford to – or they feared deportation. The WHO says its report shows the urgent need to “radically reorient” health systems to include refugees and migrants. There’s a wider benefit, too: In many countries hardest hit by COVID-19, migrants are a sizeable part of the frontline health care workforce. 

Want to tackle UN sex abuse? Get a man to do the job

In an effort to improve the UN’s response to sexual abuse and exploitation, Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed Christian Saunders (a British man) as its new “special coordinator”. Saunders is currently the assistant secretary-general in the UN’s Department of Operational Support. And his experience for the new role? Since 2017, Saunders has served on a UN task force established to improve the UN’s approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. The progress made by the task force, however, remains unclear as few public reports have been issued since it was established. Saunders succeeds Jane Holl Lute, an American, who has been special coordinator since 2016, and also headed the task force. The issue of sexual abuse and exploitation continues to dog the UN. The New Humanitarian and Thomson Reuters Foundation uncovered widespread sex abuse among World Health Organization staff – and other aid workers – during the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For an overview of a quarter-century of abuse, take a look at our timeline of the scandals – from Bosnia, to Haiti, to the Central African Republic.

In case you missed it

UKRAINE/RUSSIA: A deal between the two countries to allow millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to be exported from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is expected to be signed in Turkey on 22 July. There could still be obstacles to the agreement being implemented, but the prospect of resuming exports has raised hopes of relief for a global food crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion.

SUDAN: At least 18,000 people have been displaced following a wave of violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile state, which borders Ethiopia and South Sudan. The fighting, which began on 14 July, left dozens dead and adds to a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since an October 2021 coup derailed Sudan’s democratic transition. See our recent briefing for more.

SRI LANKA: Soldiers and police violently dismantled anti-government protest sites in Colombo, ahead of the swearing in on 22 July of Sri Lanka’s new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Wickremesinghe was appointed on 20 July after the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the wake of mass demonstrations over the collapse in living standards. 

UKRAINE: Many of the nearly two million Ukrainian refugees arriving in Russia have been “forced” to embark on the journey, according to an investigation by AP. They are often sent to towns and cities deep inside Russia after passing through “filtration” camps where some are subjected to human rights abuses and stripped of their documents. 

MOROCCO: Thirty-three people, mostly from Sudan and South Sudan, were controversially sentenced to 11 months in prison this week for attempting to enter Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. The charges stem from an attempt by hundreds of people on 24 June to scale the fortified border wall, which was repelled by Moroccan and Spanish security forces. At least 23 people died. 

PERU: Women and transgender rights activists protested against gender-based violence in the capital, Lima, on 19 July, urging greater focus on the issue by the visiting UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. There were 146 cases of femicide in Peru in 2021 – up from 138 in 2020 – part of a worrying trend of gender-based violence throughout Latin America.

SLOVENIA: The new government has begun dismantling a 200-kilometre razor wire fence along its border with Croatia. The barrier was erected in 2015 to curb the movement of asylum seekers and migrants. “Time has shown that no fence can prevent migration, but it has caused many tragedies and people were dying,” said Slovenia's interior minister. 

GHANA: Health authorities have confirmed the country’s first recorded cases of Marburg, a severe hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. The WHO praised Accra’s “swift” response to the outbreak, which comes nearly a year after Guinea also detected a case – the first found in West Africa. There are no vaccines or therapeutics approved to treat the virus.

AID: Leaders of the world’s biggest NGOs feel “stuck”: They’re acutely aware of the urgent need to change, but are handcuffed by donor expectations, their own assumptions, or a stagnant global funding landscape, according to a new survey. The report’s authors say the aid sector is at a turning point, “wanting to change the world but needing to radically change themselves to do so”.

Weekend read

Why the spoils of war may outweigh incentives for peace in Cameroon

All attempts to negotiate a settlement to the separatist conflict in Cameron’s English-speaking regions have either stalled or failed. Researcher Max Bone has spent a year talking to government officials, leaders of the secessionist movement, and individual fighters to try and understand why. What he has discovered is that a lucrative “war economy” incentivises the five-year conflict, even as more than two million people’s lives are turned upside down. Kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and taxation of the most profitable areas of the economy are among the spoils of this conflict – manipulated most glaringly by rural-based secessionist fighters. Their lawlessness has been encouraged by the waning influence of a split and squabbling diaspora-based leadership. Meanwhile, the government in Yaounde – which labels the secessionists “terrorists” – sees no reason to talk peace. It has been able to so-far weather the military pressure, and has rebuffed all diplomatic interventions urging dialogue. It’s widely acknowledged at some stage there needs to be a negotiated settlement. But as a prominent local peace activist explained: “There is no quick fix to a conflict like this one.”

And finally…

Jackie Chan’s poor taste award

Syria is in the news this week for something we really didn’t see coming: a Jackie Chan film. The actor, martial artist, and director is producing a movie currently filming in Hajar al-Aswad, a Damascus suburb next to the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk that was a rebel stronghold early in the Syrian war, and was later taken by the so-called Islamic State. Heavily bombed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and its residents forced into flight, the government took control of the area in late 2018. Its remains are now the set for a Chinese-Emirati production called “Home Operation”, about a 2015 operation by China to evacuate its citizens and other foreigners from Yemen at the start of that country’s war. Chan himself is not scheduled to travel to Syria, but pictures of other actors on set have emerged in the past few days. Residents and activists are not pleased, to say the least, with an activist from Hajar al-Aswad who was forcibly displaced to northern Syria reportedly telling Middle East Eye that it was a “huge shock” to see that “the owners of homes in Damascus were prevented from returning, while the actors were allowed to enter”.

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